There are three characters in II Kings 1 with much to teach about ups and downs in our life with the Lord. One prominent character is falling fast. Another is on the rise. Yet another character who is not even named, actually demonstrates how falling can be life-giving.
Ahaziah is a king in free fall.
Falling is in the words and the imagery of this chapter. The word translated “go down” is used 12 times in the Hebrew text, the repetition of this key term establishing a theme. And its worse than bumps and bruises. We learn from verse 2 that Ahaziah has literally fallen from the top story of the royal residence crashing through a lattice and has life-threatening injuries. He’s bed-ridden, fighting off death. We don’t have the details regarding the fall. Maybe he was clumsy. Possibly there was foul play and he was pushed. We don’t know, but what we do know is how he responded to his crisis. He is king of God's people and the best thing any leader can do is to be led by the Lord. But instead of seeking the Lord in his pain he goes to the lifeless gods his family embraced. This response isn’t going to help him change direction. He’s going down and about to crash. The text drips with irony. Ahaziah does “go up” but it’s to lie down on a couch awaiting death.
Before Ahaziah’s fall there’s an ambiguous, yet ominous statement regarding the rebellion of Moab that begins this chapter. Ahaziah’s literal fall seems to be part of the bigger picture of a figurative free fall. The political situation with Moab is an example. The King is losing control of kingdom territories. His rise to the throne is accompanied by a falling away of a subjugated people within the royal realm.
No surprise here. The larger context of I, II Kings helps paints the picture. Israel has fallen into idolatry. The royal dynasty, led by Ahaziah’s family, has forsaken God and clung to Baal. They’ve established a direction for their descendants that is a downward spiral into disaster. The consequences of spiritual adultery are predictable. Having broken covenant obligations covenant sanctions have kicked in. The nation and its kings are weakened. They’ve plummeted from international prominence. Professionally and personally Ahaziah is sinking fast. When he tries to consult a religious non-entity as a source of help he proves he’s fallen and crashed with the rest of his royal family. The story takes another ironic twist. When he employs his prerogative as king to dispatch messengers to Ekron God dispatches His messenger to intercept. Ahaziah seeks Baal but he hears from the Lord.
Elijah is a servant of the Lord on the rise.
Elijah provides a stark contrast to Ahaziah’s fall. Whereas Ahaziah is falling fast, Elijah is “rising” and “going up.” Throughout this story and into the next chapter Elijah’s trajectory is upward. The verb for up or go up is used 8 times. The imagery is employed as well. At one point Elijah sits on the peak of a mountain. In verse 3 he “rises to go up.” In verse 15 he “rises to go down.”
The contrast between A and E is vivid and vital to understanding this text. The conflict between the two is driven by the dynamic and decisive “word of the Lord.” Eighteen times “word” is used in the Hebrew text in various forms. Elijah receives and acts on the word of the Lord. Even when Ahaziah speaks he unwittingly fulfills the word of God.
Ahaziah’s response to Elijah’s intervention is predictable. Being Ahab’s son there’s a family hatred passed down to the succeeding king. Elijah has he reputation as “troubler” of Israel according to Ahab. But the trouble for the nation begins with the disposition of the king. Ahaziah wants to end Elijah’s involvement, and so he sends soldiers to confront Elijah. Sitting on the mountain Elijah is unfazed by Ahaziah’s attempt to intimidate. The first commander of fifty dispatched to bring Elijah down goes up in flames with fifty of his troops. Another commander is sent to speak with added urgency, but he encounters the same results. He says, “Hurry, come down!” But what comes down is fire. Everyone goes up in flames, again. When the king sends yet another commander with fifty men his persistence seems more like careless disregard for life. Interestingly, the third sending is matched by the three times Ahaziah is told he will die.
A humble commander falls to save his men.
Commander # 3 “goes up to meet Elijah. Remarkably and wisely he “bows down.” Literally he falls on his knees, voluntarily. Humbly he pleads for life…his own and the lives of his soldiers. These soldiers have become Elijah’s servants in the eyes of this commander, according to the text (v13). This fall saves lives. An instrument of intimidation in the hands of a failing, fallen king becomes a source of life for the warriors under his supervision. This leader of men has much to teach us about falling, up.
As believers there’s an appropriate "downwardness" to our lives. Ironically, and God loves irony, there’s an upward mobility spiritually speaking when we bow down to the true God. This soldier recognizes the one with the real power and the text makes clear that Elijah’s power exists because of the word of the Lord. Filled with the Word of God, Elijah is an agent of God. By aligning with Elijah this soldier is not only avoiding flames. He’s testifying to the power of God’s word and to God’s grace. Before you rise up tomorrow bow down in humble prayer. It might make you one of God’s unlikely heroes.